Why SEO Is More like PR than It Is Advertising

Published Mar 21, 2014 by Dan Virgillito in SEO
The views of contributors are their own, and not necessarily those of SEOBlog.com

Google Adwords, established in 2000, brought into being the idea that marketers could dissect the algorithm in order to serve up landing pages and online offers that placed highly in the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). The race was on for people trying to elbow their way to the first page of the SERPs. At that point, it was all about advertising. Marketers were trying to make sure that their online copy was the one people viewed most often. It was the same game that advertisers played when they tried to get the most views in a television spot playing during the Super Bowl or bought a one-page ad in a big magazine. The idea in advertising is to get the most views by hogging attention in strategic ways in particular high-publicity media channels. However, two things changed SEO from being totally advertising to a more public relations role: Google updates and social networking.

Google Adwords and the Need for Updates

Google may be a free service for billions of people who search it, but it is a business never-the-less. Much of its revenue comes from its advertising program: Adwords. While savvy online marketers were busy gaming the system to get free advertising by stuffing keywords into content and spamming links designed to fool the Adwords system into serving their pages up first, Google was busy perfecting their business to keep activity from damaging their own business model. Updates like Panda, Hummingbird, and Penguin tanked more than one website’s advertising strategy. It made it clear to business owners that Google would no longer tolerate poor quality, attention-hogging, content by making it almost impossible to use their search engine simply to advertise a product offering. Instead, they would be forced to contribute content that created value for the Internet community, if they wanted Google to notice them at all. It was no longer about being attention hogs, it was about making genuine online connections and relaying information that was valuable to the community. The shift from advertising to public relations solidified with the introduction of SEO strategies that no longer could rely on mindless keywords and arbitrary links. Now, marketers had to provide truly interesting and unique content that provided some value to the community. However, the game had already started changing with the introduction of social networking in 2004.

Social Networking

Facebook emerged in 2004 and social networking began to influence how people shared information online. Sites like Twitter and LinkedIn created a way for people to share more information, but now the curators of that information were your peers, not a large organization that you could manipulate with algorithm-hunting SEO strategies. To get noticed on a social networking site, it meant that marketers had to adapt towards creating one-on-one relationships that built a social brand that created trust. Without it, your friends and followers would not bother sharing your information because they would not risk losing their own friends and followers for the offense of social spamming. If you weren’t into public relations before social networking took flight, all of a sudden it became a requirement, simply to compete with others getting all the online shares and likes.

Algorithm-Hunting SEO versus PR SEO


There are stark changes in how a modern-day Internet market approaches SEO these days. It starts at the simple keyword level and goes forward into how that information is shared online. Here are a few different ways, the two models differ.

  • • Keywords – The Hummingbird Google update introduced the concept of semantic keyword searching versus coding keywords. In layman’s terms, Google is more interested in what a keyword search means, not what keywords were actually typed into the search engine. This way, they don’t pull up pet accessories when someone types in the query: ”Why am I in the dog house?” Instead, Google now understands that this is a query about relationships, not pets. Thus, the content of your online copy is far more important than the keywords. If you want to place highly for a topic such as relationships, you have to provide a lot of quality content on relationships. The keywords alone will no longer sway Google. What you need to do is community outreach and get into the mind of your reader to make sure your content provides actual value.


  • Publishing – It’s no longer reasonable to assume that publishing on your own website is enough to draw attention to your offers through Google searches. Business owners who want to generate buzz for their offerings have to be involved in social networking. Content marketing is an integral part of SEO, including posting status updates on places like Facebook and Twitter. You can still use hashtags and keywords, but some sites also deal more with images and videos than they do with textual content. You will need to include more than one type of content to keep people interested on a social level. Other content will be viewed in a smartphone and will need mobile-friendly content.


  • • Creating Buzz – To create excitement for an offer, in the past, an Internet marketer might have looked to high-ranking pages and site to share that content. They might try to get a retweet from people who had thousands of followers as opposed to the one with just a few friends and followers. They might try to get that person to post a link back to their pages. This is getting harder to do without being penalized for spamming or inappropriate links. It also missed the opportunity to create buzz on a local level. That’s why more marketers are creating buzz in a more social manner, by networking on various sites, not just one social network and one website. Google+ may be the late-comer in the social networking venues, but it is the one tied into the SERPs more, thus it makes sense for marketers to have a presence there, too.


  • • Geographic Marketing – One of the biggest benefits to SEO was the ability to enter a global market. However, some businesses soon realized it wasn’t necessary to market the world when they’re selling pizza in a particular neighborhood restaurant. In that situation, businesses had to create positive public relations in their chosen demographic first, to compete successfully in their area. This could be achieved by cultivating good online reviews, shares, and likes from people in their own area. This cements the idea that you have to connect to your chosen demographic to outsell your competitor, instead of focusing on just issuing copy or trying to chase the Google SERPs tail.

There are distinct differences in the way SEO is approached today to when it was initially developed. Marketers want to make sure that they continue to place highly in the SERPs by creating goodwill among their customers, readership, and sponsors. That is more a public relations role than a sales advertiser. It means being genuine, providing high quality copy, and integrating the strategy with good old-fashioned one-on-one connections to fuel interest and excitement for your online offers. Those businesses that take their public relations role seriously will end up naturally ranking higher and win out in the end.

Written by Dan Virgillito

Dan Virgillito

Dan Virgillito is a freelance content strategist with a passion for good storytelling and all things digital. He lived in the Netherlands, Poland, England and Sicily. Say hi on Twitter.

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